Recently, a few economic naysayers have leaped ahead of those warning about a recession, and are now warning about a depression. They’re not talking about a situation akin to the Great Depression of the 1930s – current US banking and market regulations prevent that severe a disaster – but rather a depression similar to the one Japan suffered following the collapse of its real estate and credit speculation bubble of the 1980s. Their economy suffered deflation and falling wages throughout the 1990s and still hasn’t recovered.

I’m not sure things will get that bad – Congress and the Fed know what happened to Japan and they don’t want it to happen to us. However, they’re slow to act, so we can’t rely on them completely.

If you’re concerned about the possibility of a depression rather than a recession, here’s how to prepare for it:

Pay Off Debt
At the very least, pay off your high-interest debt. Personally, I wouldn’t focus on paying off a mortgage unless you’re meeting all of your other savings and retirement goals, but get those credit cards paid off now. As we’ve seen with the current credit crisis, when banks lose money one place, they try to make it up somewhere else, usually with variable interest credit products. Don’t let them milk you dry!

I wouldn’t worry too much about federally subsidized student loans, either. Those have very generous deferral terms if you lose your job or suffer an extreme financial hardship.

Shore Up Your Emergency Fund
If you don’t have an emergency fund, start one now. Aim to save at least three months’ living expenses if you work in an in-demand field like nursing, and up to six months’ living expenses if you work in a discretionary spending area, like retail or entertainment.

Build Your Network
Don’t just build a network of colleagues in your own field – in an extended depression, you may need to transfer your skills to a new area, so make friends with people in fields where you can use your skills. Especially concentrate on people-oriented businesses that can’t be outsourced.

You should also build your network of friends. During a depression, you’ll come to rely on each other for moral support and sharing goods and food. Make friends with your neighbors now so you’ll have access to their canned goods later (and vice versa.)

Learn to Prepare Food at Home
If you don’t like cooking or your idea of “dinner” is opening up a box of Hamburger Helper and adding some meat, it’s time to learn to cook. Once you start, you’ll discover that it’s really not that hard and usually it’s cheaper, too.

Learn to Shop Wisely
If you don’t already use coupons or look for bargains at the grocery store, learn to shop wisely. See my series on eating well for less for tips for doing just that. But in a depression, you may need to go further. Become friends with generics and store brands of comparable quality and safety. Visit your nearby 99-cent store. Although they’re also raising prices, you can still stock up on staples for much less.

Plant Some Food
If you have a garden, it’s time to make room for food. In addition to herbs that can add freshness to that 99-cent canned stew, plant hardy vegetables native to your region and native fruit trees. Although there are initial start-up costs, once your food is growing, you should see some savings.

Learn to Live Below Your Means
All of the above can be summed up as: learning to live on less. Even if you can spend more, that doesn’t mean you have to. Instead, send your raises directly to savings and learn to budget your money to have something left over every month. That will make it easier to cut back further if a depression occurs.

Keep Your Car in Good Condition
By this I mean a car you own, not a car you lease. A car you lease could quickly become a car you no longer have. But if you keep your paid-off car in good condition, it will serve you well during a serious downturn.

Buy Classic Clothing Styles and Keep Them in Good Condition
Don’t worry about buying the latest trendy thing and instead focus on high-quality classics, and then keep them in good condition. I have shirts and jeans that are more than five-years-old that are still in good condition and still in style. A classically-cut white shirt never goes out of style. A good men’s suit is always in fashion. When it comes to trends, stick to the affordable accessories to dress up your classics. Even high-quality clothing is affordable if you own it forever.

Avoid Super-Aggressive Portfolios
Unless you’re young and single, don’t put the bulk of your investments into a really aggressive portfolio or stock in the hope that you’ll hit it big. Instead, take a balanced approach with index funds, bond funds, and international funds. If you’re youngish and want to take more risk, you can also build a position in a growth fund.

Vote Wisely
Finally, vote for politicians who are more concerned with the needs of real people, not lobbyist groups and big corporations. If a depression comes, it’s the people who ultimately bear the brunt while hedge fund fat cats glide around the Mediterranean on yachts.

Now as you look at this list, you might be thinking: shouldn’t I be doing all of this anyway? Yes, yes you should. Being frugal is always a good idea, even when the economy is flush, because you never know when your personal economy might go down the tubes.

Do you have any other ideas for preparing for a depression? Tell me in the comments, or post it on your own blog and link back to it here.

Now that you’re confident your accounts under $100,000 are safe and you don’t need to pull your money out of the bank, you might be wondering how much money you should keep in any bank.

Keep Less than the Maximum Insured Amount
Personally, I wouldn’t keep anywhere near $100,000 in cash anywhere, unless it was part of the down payment for a house. Sums that large should be invested in order to earn a larger return than the paltry 1-3% you can earn on a savings account.

However, if you do need to keep a large amount in cash, don’t put more than $90,000 in a non-retirement account at any financial institution. If you earn interest, you could quickly go over $100,000 if you have more than that in an account. By keeping no more than $90,000 in an account, you have some room for growth.

Disperse Large Savings Between Several Banks
One of the victims of the IndyMac failure was a man who’d put his life savings of more than $200,000 in five CDs. He’d been told he could protect it by adding the names of other family members to the account. He lost nearly $30,000 in the collapse.

However, for short-terms needs, I’d put $80,000 in three different banks – note, that means different financial institutions, not different branches of one institution.

Invest Large Amounts You Don’t Need in the Short Term
Equity and most bond investments are not insured, but they offer a better return than you’d receive from CDs or cash savings. Unless you need a large amount of cash in the next three years for a home purchase or college, invest it. If you’re not sure how aggressive you should be in your investments, seek the advice of a certified financial planner who charges by the hour (rather than through commissions.)

Check Yearly to Ensure You’re Not Over the Limit
Mark a date in your calendar every year to review all of your bank balances and shuffle the money around if any one account is at or near the insured limit. That way, if something should happen, you can relax while everyone else rushes to the bank in a panic.

These suggestions are simple on the face, but they can go a long way towards ensuring that your money is fully insured or working hard for you if it’s not insured.

After a three week break due to traveling, the weekly blog carnival roundup returns! This week I have four carnivals to share.

The first is The Carnival of Personal Finance #165 hosted by No Debt Plan. In addition to my post about a new car repair estimates tool, you might also enjoy Save and Conquer’s instructions for changing a car battery.

The second is Festival of Frugality #13 hosted by Bored Finance. In addition to my first post about frugal grocery shopping, you might also enjoy Briana’s post about coupons for all things, not just food.

The third is the Money Hacks Carnival #25 hosted by The Personal Financier. In addition to my post about the grocery price book, you might also enjoy Chow Spice’s four simple ways to save money on food. I’m becoming very curious about the new slow cookers.

The final is the Carnival of Money Stories #72 hosted by Broke Grad Student. In addition to my post about not saving money on groceries, you might also enjoy Living Almost Large’s debate about whether a $4 ice cream cone is frugal (for her thighs, yes it is.)

Bank FailureWhen IndyMac Bank closed, the news featured photos and video of crowds of people waiting outside the bank to withdraw their money. Most of them had less than $100,000 in the bank, and it reopened as a Federal bank the following Monday, so there was really no reason for the rush other than fear. So when should you pull your money out of the bank and when should you avoid the panic and the rush?

Close an Account You Tend to Forget
If you have several small accounts that go long periods without activity, it’s best to close them and move the money to a few larger accounts. States have become more aggressive at shutting down closed accounts and then using the money until you claim it. Why give them a loan?

Close Accounts at Banks in Other States
If you’ve moved permanently out of state and your bank doesn’t have branches where you live, close the account.

Withdraw Funds in Excess of $100,000
One of the main problems with the IndyMac closure was the confusion about FDIC insurance. Some people mistakenly believed they could increase the insurance limit by adding 3rd and 4th people to the accounts but not giving them the full rights to the account. Others thought that business accounts were protected for larger amounts. Still others thought they could open several accounts of the same type and have each insured up to $100,000. According to the FDIC website:

  • Single Accounts are insured up to $100,000 per depositer per bank. So, you can have a savings account and a checking account worth a total of $100,000 combined in order to be fully insured.
  • Joint Accounts are also insured up to $100,000 per depositor per bank. So, if you and your spouse have $150,000 in a joint checking account, and $70,000 in a joint saving account, then you’re only insured up to $200,000. Note, that only authorized users are insured. Account holders in name only aren’t covered.
  • Retirement Accounts (IRAs, Keoughs, and two others) are covered up to $250,000.
  • Revocable Living Trusts are insured up to $100,000 per owner and beneficiary (so a couple with two children would have their trust ensured up to $400,000 if both couples owned the trust and both children were the beneficiaries.)

If you have more than $100,000 in any single bank, withdraw the overage and deposit it in a different financial institution (not just at a different branch of the same bank.) Even if the account isn’t insurable to begin with, I’d worry about having that much cash in any one place and would spread it around to be safe.

If you have less than $100,000, your money is safe and your bank will continue to operate even if the FDIC seizes it. The FDIC typically engineers a sale to another bank quickly, and most people don’t even notice the change.

Withdraw Funds If You Keep Large Amounts in One Bank and It’s Looking Iffy
If you start to hear rumblings about your bank, and you operate a business or keep a large amount of money in the bank, you might want to withdraw it before the bank is seized. You can keep tabs on the safety of your bank with Bankrate’s Safe & Sound ratings. If it has a CAEL rating of 4 or 5, or a Bankrate star rating of 1 or 2, you might want to switch to a different bank.

You should read their full report before rushing to the bank, though. You may decide the low rating is unrelated to their ability to keep your money safe.

The quote I heard most often during the IndyMac collapse was: “I know it’s safe, but I don’t want to take a chance.” They were reacting with fear stoked by dire news warnings rather than knowledge. Two other banks closed that week and the transition was smooth. So, decide know when you should withdraw your money and then stick to it if something happens. If you want more reassurance, use this insurance tool at the FDIC to confirm that your money is safe after a collapse.

My husband and I aren’t very big on anniversaries (or birthdays). We’re very open to time-shifting them, skipping gifts, or holding one combination celebration for all our anniversaries and birthdays together. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to recognize our marriage, though. So here are ten frugal yet romantic ways we’ve celebrated our anniversary.

Focus on You, Not on Gifts
The first few years we were together, we gave each other gifts for our dating anniversary. Then we both started grad school, so instead we exchanged cards. That’s not to say that I’d say no to an upgraded engagement ring for our tenth wedding anniversary. It’s just that I don’t need some little trinket every year to remind me of our love. Instead, we use the money we would have spent on gifts to do other things, like start our house savings. I’d rather have a house than receive a teddy bear.

Merge Several Celebrations into One Larger Occasion
If you celebrate both your dating anniversary and wedding anniversary, celebrate them together on the same day. We’ve only been married for three years, but we’ve been together for ten. Our dating anniversary also falls near our birthdays, so we plan one nice evening to celebrate all three of those occasions together.

Take an Affordable Trip
My husband stayed at a bed and breakfast for our first dating anniversary, but we haven’t traveled for our anniversary since. This year, in celebration of ten years together, we’re using airline miles and a Luxury Link package to take a luxury trip at an affordable price. That trip will also be our Christmas and birthday presents to each other.

Return to the Location of Your First Date
I can’t do this anymore, because the location of our first date has closed, but it’s a popular one with many couples. Even if it’s just the McDonald’s you ran into after a late movie, being there again on your anniversary will spark some romantic memories.

Do Something Silly
Instead of being uber-romantic, head out to do something silly. Go the mall and take pictures in a photo booth, go to a carnival, or play mini-golf. Laughter’s a powerful aphrodisiac and takes the pressure off being romantic.

Look at Photos from Your Years Together
Before our wedding, I compiled photos of us together into one small photo album. (We’re not really camera people, so there weren’t many.) If you don’t already have a photo album dedicated to you as a couple, pull your favorites and compile them into a book to share with your sweetie.

Make Lists of the Things You Love about Each Other
This one takes some advance planning, but list one thing you love about your partner for each year you’ve been together, then exchange the lists on your anniversary. By the time you get done reading the list your partner made about you, you should be in a very romantic mood indeed.

Cook a Fancy Dinner
We do enjoy nice dinners out, but eating out is complicated for me. So rather than taking our umpteenth trip to P.F. Chang’s, this year I’m making us a lovely steak dinner at home. We’ll light candles, enjoy a bottle of wine, and watch our wedding video. Someday, we’ll finish our wedding album so we can look at that, too.

Take a Bottle of Nice Champagne to a Restaurant
If you’re set on celebrating in a nice restaurant, consider bringing your own bottle of champagne. One year a friend gave us a very nice bottle for Christmas. We took it to the restaurant and the manager waived the corkage fee when we explained the reason we’d brought it. Even if they charge corkage, the $25 you spend to open the bottle is much cheaper than the $100 you’d have to spend to buy a nice bottle from the restaurant.

Enjoy a Picnic in an Unusual Setting
If your anniversary is in the summer, shift the celebration to the weekend so you can go on a nice picnic together. Pack fancier fare than sandwiches and trail mix, and bring a bottle of wine. Then get in the car and pick a direction. Drive until you find a neat place to stop. You could find yourself near a cornfield or on a cliff, the point is to do the unexpected. If you have kids, don’t bring them. If your anniversary is during the winter, send the kids to a friend’s house and picnic in the living room in front of the fire.

No matter what you decide to do, the key is to spend some time together remembering your years together and looking forward to the years you have left.

I cut my weekly menu planning time by at least 15 minutes after I started using recipe binders. Before then, I had to flip through an accordion file to find the recipes I wanted, which took forever because they were all jumbled together. Other people prefer to use a computer database or a recipe card box. Here are the pros and cons of each method, and tips for building your own recipe binder.

Recipe Organization Options
No matter how your organize them, any method is better than no method. My binder only contains recipes that aren’t in my limited selection of cookbooks. However, my menu book contains a list of everything I’ve made for the last couple of years. One look at that list is all I need to remember whether a particular recipe is in the recipe binder or the cookbooks.

recipe binder

Pros and Cons of Recipe Binders
Recipe binders are my preferred storage method because they’re cheap and easy to use. Here are some other pros and cons:

Pros:

  • A complete recipe usually fits on one page
  • No concerns about spills or messy fingers
  • Easy to reorganize and edit
  • Recipes can be printed from the computer
  • Can fit over 100 recipes in each binder

Cons:

  • Binders fill up quickly
  • Full binders are hard to add more recipes to
  • Full binders are heavy

recipe box

Pros and Cons of Recipe Boxes
I’ve never tried a recipe box, but I do have a few recipe cards that I will probably throw out soon. Here are the pros and cons of this option:

Pros:

  • Save space in the kitchen
  • Easy to reorganize or edit
  • Cards can stand up inside a cookbook holder

Cons:

  • Cards must typically be handwritten
  • Kitchen messes may ruin the cards
  • A complete recipe may require multiple cards
  • Boxes are small and you may need several for your collection

Pros and Cons of Recipe Databases
One of my friends likes to keep all of her recipes on her laptop. I can see several advantages and disadvantages to this method:

Pros:

  • Unlimited storage space
  • Can easily change font size for easy reading
  • Can add recipes with a quick internet search
  • Can search for recipes quickly
  • No cookbook holder required

Cons:

  • Kitchen spills or messy fingers could ruin the computer
  • May require recipe software to keep recipes organized
  • May have to type some recipes into the computer

recipe binder 2

How to Make a Recipe Binder
If you’ve decided a recipe binder is right for you, here’s how I created mine. You can tailor yours to your needs.

1. Buy binders, dividers, and sheet protectors. I use 3-inch binders from Costco ($12 for 4) and a large box of clear, heavy-gauge sheet protectors ($18 for 200).

2. Choose your recipe categories and fill out the divider tabs. I chose:

  • Breakfast
  • Cakes/Pies
  • Cookies
  • Desserts
  • Fruit
  • Drinks
  • Breads
  • Appetizers
  • Salads
  • Sauces/Dressings
  • Breakfast
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Pasta (Meatless)
  • Pork and Other Meats
  • Poultry
  • Side Dishes

3. Divide the tabs among your binders in a way that makes sense to you. I put my main dish tabs, salads, sauces, and side dishes in one binder, and everything else in the other tab. Organize the tabs alphabetically in each binder.

4. Pull out recipes from all your other storage methods. As you slip them into sheet protectors, throw out recipes you’ve never made and will probably never make. For multi-page recipes, put them back-to-back in the sheet protector so you can flip it around while cooking.

5. Pile each type of recipe together. When your sorting is complete, insert the piles into the binders.

6. Each week, remove the recipes you plan to cook and insert the recipes you used last week. I put the most recent recipes on top of each section to ensure a good rotation. As you use them, write notes on the recipe sheets about what you liked or didn’t like and how you modified them.

7. If you make a recipe and hate it, take it out of the binder!

How to Add Recipes to the Binder
Now that I have the binder, I’m constantly adding recipes to it. I have three preferred methods:

  • Print it out after watching it on the Food Network or another cooking channel.
  • Type recipes out of cookbooks borrowed from the library. Typing saves paper and ink vs. copying, and lets me control the font.
  • Print recipes found on the internet when I feel like trying something new or use Cheffy or AllRecipes to find ways to use up an ingredient from another recipe.

Once you find a way to organize your recipes quickly and easily, you won’t need to buy as many cookbooks. I’ve bought just one cookbook in the last year, after I realized I’d marked more than half the book for typing or copying.

What’s your favorite recipe organization method? If you have a blog, post a photo of your method and link to it in the comments.

Several weeks ago, I went to Ralphs to use my double coupons on a big purchase. When I got to the register, I learned that their double coupon program had been deeply cut, and I spent $10 more than planned. In light of double coupon program cutbacks, here are new strategies for using your double coupons, or making better use of non-doubled coupons.

Recent Cutbacks in Double Coupons
I’d seen rumors of the cutbacks at Hot Coupon World, but hoped they weren’t true. So I was rather shocked to see the very small sign on the register at Ralph’s on the day of my big trip. Other stores have also severely cut their double coupon programs in the last six months. They blame rising costs. At the same time, I’ve noticed that the coupon circulars have shrunk, and the coupons themselves have become less generous.

If you’re unfamiliar, here are the changes to Ralphs. Other stores are following similar methods for cutting their double coupons, or eliminating them entirely.

Former Generous Double Coupon Policy

  • All coupons up to $1 were doubled (except those stating “do not double”).
  • Coupons over $1 had an extra dollar added to them. That meant a $2 coupon was worth $3, a 25-cent coupon was worth 50 cents.
  • Coupon discounts could exceed the price of the item.

New Stingy Double Coupon Policy

  • Coupons over $1 will not be doubled at all.
  • Coupons between 50 cents and $1 will double up to $1 (so a 75-cent coupon is worth $1)
  • Coupons under 50 cents will fully double.
  • Coupon discounts can’t exceed the item’s price.
  • Any coupon stating “do not double” is excluded from doubling.

How to Respond to Cutbacks in Double Coupons
If you’re a hardcore couponer, or just like saving a few bucks with coupons, use these tips to fight the cutbacks:

Write or Email the Store’s Executive Office to Complain
If they get lots of letters from angry customers, they may reconsider the policy. You can complain to the manager, but the manager has no power in this situation. Only the executive office has the power to change the policy. Some stores have customer reply forms in the stores. Get one and use it. If you can’t find one, visit the chain’s website to find out where to send your letter. Send it by mail rather than email if you can, because written letters require more effort, and therefore carry more weight.

Shop Somewhere Else
Back in 2006, Vons tried to cut double coupons entirely. Their stores became ghost towns, and now the double coupons are back. The cutbacks at Ralphs simply meant that I shifted more of my grocery purchases to Trader Joe’s and the farmer’s market. I make sure to use my loyalty card when I checkout at Ralphs so they can see the decline in my purchases (and also to eke out a small savings.)

I will be taking my personal care product purchases to CVS, which doesn’t double coupons but has the Extra Care Bucks. I might also consider buying my personal care and cleaning products and supplies at Target, but I’ll have to do some research. And, of course, Costco still has great deals if you’re a member.

Stock Up on Sale Goods
If you must continue to shop at a non-doubling, or stingy doubling store, then become a store circular hawk. If a non-perishable good goes on sale and you use it regularly, collect your coupons, hunt for coupons online, and then visit the store to stock up when you can get a fair price.

Eat Less Food
Let’s be honest – portion sizes in this country have ballooned in recent years. Consider eating less to save money on groceries. If you eat real food, instead of packaged food, you’ll feel fuller on less. Coupons aren’t always available for real food, but it usually costs less and you can find it in more places.

If you can still use double coupons, definitely do so. Even if you buy mostly real food, a generous doubling policy can help you save money on staples like cleaning products. With costs rising for everything, every little bit of savings helps.

A few months ago, I saw this at Failblog:

book rental service?

was just thinking. my sister does -alot- of reading, and spends like $1000 a year on just books alone. most of them she reads once then never looks at again. is there any kind of like…video rental store but for books? would make things alot cheaper, plus once one person had read one the next person can get enjoyment from it etc

I laughed and thought, “It’s called a library.” Then I started to wonder if a Netflix for books might actually exist. It turns out they do, which then prompted me to wonder if they’re better than the library.

How Book Rental Sites Work
Book rental sites like BookSwim and BooksFree work just like Netflix. You pay a monthly fee and then they send you the allotted number of books per month. Shipping is free both ways. When you return one, they send you the next book on your list.

What Book Rental Sites Cost
BooksFree’s cheapest plan is $9.99 a month for two books at a time. They only offer paperbacks and audiobooks. The audiobook plan comes with a separate fee. The cheapest plan sends two books at a time and requires you to return them together to get more. The other plans circulate the books like Netflix.

BookSwim’s cheapest plan is $19.99 a month for three books at a time and you can return them separately to have more shipped. Their selection includes hardcovers and paperbacks.

Are Rental Sites Better than the Library?
I haven’t tested either site because I have a backlog of books at home and an awesome library that carries nearly everything, but I can see the advantages and disadvantages of the rental site.

Rental Site Advantages

  • Shorter wait for hot books
  • Wider selection for rural residents
  • No need to travel to a library
  • No late fees or due dates
  • Site available 24-hours a day.

Library Advantages

  • Books are free
  • Higher limit for checked out books
  • Wider selection for residents of cities or larger suburbs.

I’m biased, but I think the library wins, for the simple reason of cost. However, convenience is bigger concern for some people. I’m spoiled by my library system. Consider these factors when choosing the best source for your books:

Location and Hours
The Los Angeles system has many, many branches all over the city. I’ve never lived more than 5 minutes from a branch, but that isn’t true of people in rural areas, where a visit to the library could entail a drive of 20 minutes or more. My library also has good hours – my branch is open until 8 weeknights. Some branches are open Sundays. I know many rural libraries have cut hours, which makes them hard to use.

Online Ordering and Renewal
The LAPL catalog is also online, and I can order books to be delivered to my local branch. I can usually get any book I want, although I have spotted some gaps in their fiction collection. I can also renew online. Some rural or smaller systems don’t offer either of those options.

Cost of Late Fees
The biggest danger of the library is late fees. If you’re forgetful or can’t get to the library before a book is due, then maybe the rental service is best for you. Most libraries have night drops, so you can still return books, but then you have to go back to the library when it’s open to check out new books.

Catalog Size
The Los Angeles library system is huge. They have most new books as well as books dating back 80 years or more. I don’t know precisely how many books they have, but I’d guess it’s in the millions. They check out 15 million books a year. BookSwim advertises over 120,000 books and BooksFree claims over 140,000 titles. If your library has fewer books than that and limited interlibrary loan privileges, then better selection is a strong selling point.

Final Thoughts: Library for City Folk, Rented Books for Country Folk
I can certainly see the appeal of renting books through the mail if you live in an area with a poor or distant library system. But if you live in a large suburb or city, then stick with your library. Even if you have to get on a super-long waiting list to read the current bestsellers, free is better than $10 a month. But, if you rack up more than $10 a month in late fees, get thee to a rental website to feed your book habit.

When people hear “massage” they either think of an overpriced spa or the kind that comes with a happy ending. You may be surprised to learn that you can find affordable massage therapy without visiting the red light district. I did just that and am very pleased with the results.

I was in a car accident several years ago and my neck never fully healed. Every year or two I’d spring for a pricey spa massage, which helped, but it always left me wanting more. This year, I received a spa gift certificate, but I wanted a facial, too. So, I booked myself two appointments – one at a spa where I used the gift certificate for an expensive facial, and a second at an affordable massage center I drive past every day, but had never visited. It changed my life. I didn’t suffer neck pain for months after that first visit. When I did have a sudden spasm, I returned to the same therapist and he worked it right out. I now plan to visit every three months or so. Being pain free is worth $240 a year.

The Benefits of Massage Therapy
Most people are familiar with some of the benefits of massage therapy – such as the instant relaxation – but there are actually many more health benefits than most people realize. Massage is known to:

  • Improve circulation and flexibility
  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Release tension in the neck and shoulders (especially common with desk workers)
  • Shorten the duration of labor (if you have pregnancy massage)
  • Shorten injury recovery time
  • Boost the immune system (because it activates the lymph glands)
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Reduce symptoms of depression

If you’re always busy like me, a massage also provides much-needed quiet time. I lay there, listening to the music, and let my mind drift. I walk away mentally and physically refreshed.

How to Find Affordable Massage Therapy
You can Google for affordable massage therapy, but there’s an even easier way to find it: just keep your eyes open. Look for signs that say “Massage Therapy $39″ or something similar in mini-malls in the nicer parts of town. There are at least two chains of affordable massage therapy chains operating in the Los Angeles area. Smaller cities have them. My mom reports seeing them in her suburb.

If you don’t see one while out and about, I recommend looking at Yelp. Enter “massage” and your zip code. When you’re offered options to refine your search, click the single dollar sign box. That will list the affordable options in your area, and the reviews will help you make a final decision.

Why Are They Affordable?
These centers keep costs down by reducing the frills. My place doesn’t have a locker room or shower. You just change in the massage room and go home to shower. They also don’t have a luxurious waiting room or a large product line to sell.

Once you’re in the massage room, nothing is different. The therapist has the same training as a spa therapist. They’re usually paid the same amount per massage, too. The massage table is just as comfortable, the music is the same, and the lighting is equally dim. I usually tip the same amount I would for a spa massage, because I’m receiving the same service, but it’s still affordable.

The only difference I’ve seen is a longer massage. Rather than the 50-minute hour most spas offer, a 60-minute massage at my center is 60 minutes.

My massage center charges $39 for a regular massage and $49 for a deep tissue massage. At those prices, can you afford not to get one? True, it’s not “cheap,” but it’s certainly more frugal than waiting until your pain, stress, or tension develops into a problem requiring medical care.

About four months ago, my car started to make a very bad noise. After checking to make sure I hadn’t run over a few rubber cones or a giant stick, I took it to the shop. I left with a large repair bill. My husband also recently got walloped with a big repair bill. I wish we’d known about RepairPal.com at the time. It might have saved us a few bucks on his repair. I’m glad to know my repair was at the low end of the price range.

The Old Way to Compare Car Repair Estimates
When they first told me that I needed to replace my wheel hub bearings at a cost of $831, I was hesitant. Although it seemed like a reasonable repair — the car did have 115,000 miles on it — that was a lot of money to spend. So instead I decided to think about it. If I was being really careful, I would have followed these steps to make sure it was necessary and fairly priced:

1. Go online to research the repair. I found that this repair is fairly common with high-mileage cars.
2. Call a dealer to request a price. Toyota wanted $1260.
3. Take it to a different shop for a second opinion. Toyota wanted $100 just to look at it. I was also pressed for time, and didn’t want to spend another day at the shop. I’ve been going to my shop for years and they’ve never scammed me, so I let them do the repair.
4. Hope you got a fair price. According to RepairPal, I paid slightly less than the lowest average price.

Repair Pal: The New Way to Compare Estimates
Thanks to Consumerist.com, I now know about RepairPal.com. It’s a fast and easy way to compare estimates. You’ll still have to do some online legwork or visit another mechanic if the repair itself sounds fishy, but this new site makes it easy to see if you’re being gouged for common repairs. Prices are based on your location and they ask specific questions to make sure you’re being given accurate information for your specific car.

First, you enter your car’s make. The dropdown boxes change as you answer various questions. These are the questions it asked for my car:

repair pal estimate

To select the repair, it brings up a dialog box that lists the common repairs. Just click the one you want.

repair pal common repairs

The next screen shows your car, a list of local repair centers, and a range of prices from dealers and independent mechanics. It also explains what the repair involves.

Repair Pal interface

For some cars, they also list the known problems with the car. My husband’s car is newer, and didn’t have known issues listed. My car doesn’t have very many, which makes me happy.

Repair Pal estimate 2

Other RepairPal Features
I haven’t tried them yet, but the site also offers a few other cool features. You can track the repairs you’ve had on your car. No more sorting through piles of receipts trying to figure out the last time the timing belt was replaced! You can also look through an encyclopedia of car repair advice to learn more about common issues and repairs.

If you want to ask a more specific question, they charge $9 to receive an answer from a certified mechanic. I’m not sure I’d use that one because it’s hard to diagnose a car problem over email, but they could probably tell you whether a certain repair is recommended for a specific problem.

The site also helps you find local shops. Most of the shops I saw don’t currently have ratings, but it’s relatively new. In time I think you’ll be able to go by the user ratings.

I have this page bookmarked for my future car repair estimates! Even though my shop is honest and my repair was actually cheaper than the average, it never hurts to check.

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